Civil Rights, Drug Wars, Policy, Washington, DC

(Part 2 , see Part 1 – Our first article is about why African-Americans are less supportive of legalization than outsider groups who are trying to impose it on Washington, DC and elsewhere.)

Discussion of marijuana legalization centers mainly on personal freedom, flaws in the criminal justice system, and a theory that government can regulate it and take profits away from cartels and criminals.  There is no evidence that it is possible to regulate marijuana, and black markets persist in Washington and Colorado.  Since the regulation theory has largely been disproven by the two states and by studies, this article concentrates on criminal justice.

Can anyone truly believe legalizing marijuana would end racial discrimination in America? (Recent evidence in Denver and Seattle after the legalization of marijuana in Seattle suggests that racial discrepancies in arrests don’t end.)  However, these disparities are the main reasons people cite for supporting legalization of pot in Washington, DC.

Taking on the ACLU Positions

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L Lanier addressed the racial divide in arrests in the Washington Post.  Some of her comments specifically responded to a American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report.

Washington, DC, Police Chief Cathy Lanier
Washington, DC, Police Chief Cathy Lanier

“The ACLU also appears not to understand our city very well,” she wrote. “It is, indeed, a sad fact that blacks represent a disproportionate number of arrestees in the District; the proportions are similar for marijuana arrests, for other narcotics and all arrests.  But this is a complex issue that cannot be boiled down to an allegation that MPD (Metropolitan Police) selectively enforces the law against our black communities.”

Lanier points out that police in certain neighborhoods received a higher volume of calls from residents complaining about drugs, and that 59% of the police officers are black, a proportion higher than the city’s population.  Blacks are arrested more for marijuana because they tend to smoke it in public among groups, unlike whites who more often smoke in the privacy of their residence or clubs.

Cathy Lanier is the most popular citywide public figure in Washington, DC, with an approval rating over 70%.

Drug Policy in General

Chief Lanier emphasized that the police department in Washington, DC, is strongly committed to supporting youth.  The goal is to prevent youths from ending up in the criminal justice system for a minor transgression. Since she has been in the police department for 24 years and chief of police for seven, she has first-hand knowledge which the ACLU lacks.  She realizes that where there is already criminal activity, trying to put the marijuana under regulations may mean that criminals would branch out to other forms of crime and selling other drugs.

Much of the country agrees with rehabilitating drug addicts and drug abusers, rather than punishment.  While states vary, the drug treatment model is becoming more prevalent.   Transforming our drug policy rather than adopting complete tolerance and normalization of drugs  is a wiser policy.  The answer is not legalization.

We need a non-partisan national discussion, that considers all sides of the issue.  Mandatory minimum sentences don’t accomplish the goals desired when they were established. Three strikes laws should be abolished.  Prisons-for-profit aren’t allowed in most of the country, but they could also be banned.

“War on Drugs” Rhetoric

The idea that the “war on drugs” is a war on black and Hispanic communities is too simplistic to explain a situation.   The ACLU, which has had an important stake in legalization efforts in Maine and Washington (2 states with low African-American and Hispanic populations), uses this arguments to press legalization of drugs.

Wealthy white drug dealers can probably afford more expensive lawyers than minority drug dealers, a different matter.  Black males have been disproportionately jailed for violating drug laws.  Michelle Alexander, who wrote The New Jim Crow, supports legalization of all drugs.  However, she is now lamenting that legalization has benefited the white males who are now making all the profits.

The cause of racial problems of the United States and drug violence in Central America shouldn’t be seen as one-dimensional issues.  The argument that the violence of drug gangs and cartels is caused by US policy shows a lack of understanding of the nature of drugs.

The drug policy – violence theory also demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of humanity.  Gangs and cartels are money-making paths that bring profits quickly.  Anyone can be lured into the profit motive without fully thinking of the harm, particularly when a person is young and risky behaviors make it seem exciting.  There is a certain “high” that comes from evading the law.

Criminal businesses will be always be attractive to both the rich and the poor.  Some cartel leaders are well-educated and even rich.  If it were only about income inequality, many would get out of the drug trade sooner.  We need to foster opportunities for the poor, so they don’t see drug dealing as a route out of poverty.  Regardless of circumstances, they’re hungry for power and wouldn’t lose power over people, if pot became legal. They would branch out to other crimes such as human trafficking, and to stronger drugs.

Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages
Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages

 When Drug Wars Occur

Drug wars happen when growers and cartels compete to have the strongest, most potent strains of marijuana.   High-THC plants bring higher profits, but the marijuana industry pretends that government is to blame for the greedy, violent wars between drug cartels.

We can see the violence that comes with the competition in the drug trade in the book and movie, Savages of 2012, with Benicio del Toro.  An earlier movie  Blow, in which Johnny Depp played notorious drug dealer George Jung, tries to illicit sympathy for the criminal who was instrumental in bringing the Columbian cocaine trade to the USA.  It is clear that greed and adventure motivated Jung, without concern about the harmful consequences to others.

Marijuana advocates who say “drug wars don’t work,”  play into current anti-government sentiments.  They say those who don’t agree with marijuana must be taking money from the drug-making companies, the police unions, alcohol industry, the prison or prison guard industry.  Otherwise, how could anyone not believe in their psychotropic drug that has been manipulated — to become stronger and to work medical miracles, as they claim? In their twisted logic, they say the US has created cartel violence in Mexico. Violence of course has many causes including poverty.   On the other hand, there is evidence that cartels have moved out of Colorado into Central America, and are causing our heroin epidemic today.

 

Washington’s Marijuana Program is a Train Wreck

Colorado Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado admitted his state was “reckless” to legalize marijuana, but the public hears less about the train wreck in Washington state.   The big lesson in Washington is that an unregulated medical marijuana system doesn’t suddenly get regulated — after marijuana is legalized for recreational use.

DUIDs for marijuana have increased significantly and that the hopes tax revenue haven’t been met.  There’s another aspect of the marijuana program in Washington…… wreckless destruction!   The “explosion of Washington’s marijuana industry has some police busier than ever,” read a headline back in June. Continue reading

10 Marijuana Myths Advocates Want You to Believe

By Dr. Christine Miller, Ph.D.
Myth #1. It is rare for marijuana users to experience psychotic symptoms like paranoia.
In fact, about 15% of all users and a much higher percentage of heavy users will experience psychotic symptoms.1 Half of those individuals will become chronically schizophrenic if they don’t stop using.2 Fortunately, some do stop using because psychosis is not pleasant and they wisely recognize that pot caused their problems.
Myth #2. Marijuana-induced psychosis must be due to other contaminating drugs.
Clinical studies under controlled laboratory conditions have shown that administering the pure, active ingredient of pot, ∆9-THC, elicits psychotic symptoms in normal volunteers.3  In addition, epidemiological research of nearly 19,000 drug abusing Finnish subjects showed that it was not LSD, amphetamine, cocaine, methamphetamine, PCP or opiates that most consistently led to a diagnosis of long term schizophrenia, it was marijuana.4 Thus, if you lace your LSD with marijuana, you are more likely to go psychotic.
Myth #3.  If marijuana is associated with the development of chronic psychosis (schizophrenia), it is only because the patients are self-medicating. Correlation does not equal causation.
Actually, four studies have been carried out in Europe to ask the question which comes first, the marijuana use or the schizophrenia. The research was designed to follow thousands of young teen subjects through a course of several years of their lives, and to ask if those who were showing symptoms of psychosis at study onset were more likely to begin smoking pot, or were those who were normal but began smoking pot during the course of the study more likely to become psychotic. Three of the studies5 convincingly showed that the evidence for marijuana triggering schizophrenia was strong, whereas the evidence for self-medication was weak. The fourth concluded that both were happening — marijuana was triggering psychosis and psychotic individuals were self-medicating.6
Myth #4. Those who become schizophrenic from marijuana use were destined to become so anyway because of their genes.
The truth of the matter is that no one is destined to become schizophrenic. Even in the case where one member of an identical pair of twins has schizophrenia, only about half the time does the other twin become schizophrenic as well.7  Thus, there is ample room for environmental factors like marijuana to make a difference between leading a normal life and not.
Myth #5. Studies showing links between marijuana and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia are “cherry picked” to exclude negative studies.
A very large review of all relevant published papers was conducted by a group of researchers from around the world and published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. No attempt was made to exclude results that were negative. The results they obtained by merging all the studies was that marijuana use approximately doubles the risk for schizophrenia.8 Later research has shown that the risk goes up to 6-fold if the use is heavy or if the pot is strong 9 (similar to the strength of marijuana that is coming out of Colorado now).
Myth #6. Marijuana makes you mellow and less aggressive.
This is certainly not the case for the 15% who experience psychotic symptoms and the subgroup who then go on to develop a chronic psychosis. These individuals are up to 9-times more likely to commit serious acts of violence than people whose schizophrenia has nothing to do with drug use.10 Just a few of the very recent high profile cases here on the East Coast include January’s Columbia Mall shooter Darion Aguilar and “multiverse”-ranting Vladimir Baptiste, who drove a truck through a Towson, MD TV station in May. Somewhat less violent cases include White House episodes: Oscar Ortega, charged with shooting at the White House, ex-Navy Seal employee David Gil Wilkerson charged with threatening the life of the President and most recently, fence jumper Dominic Adesanya who is charged with attacking the White House guard dogs this October. In the Rocky Mountain region, soccer dad Richard Kirk became psychotic after his first use of marijuana edibles for his back pain, and while hallucinating that the world was going to end, shot his wife to death as his children listened through a closed door.On the West Coast, the mentally ill marijuana user Aaron Ybarra shot one student dead and wounded two others on the campus of Seattle Pacific University. In Ottawa this past week, rifleman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was originally thought to have terrorist ties after he killed a young guard at the Capitol, but instead his friends paint a picture of psychosis and law enforcement records reveal more than one arrest for marijuana possession. All of these individuals exhibited psychotic symptoms prior to their acts and their mental illness could be traced to their marijuana habit in my opinion.
Myth #7. Marijuana is good for the symptoms of PTSD and by keeping this drug from our veterans, we are depriving them of an important alternative treatment.
Veterans Affairs Administration studies have shown that those with PTSD who smoke marijuana make significantly less progress in overcoming their condition.11  PTSD victims are already more vulnerable to psychosis and it comes as no surprise that clinicians have witnessed psychotic breaks in PTSD patients who begin marijuana12 because of the abundant literature showing an association between marijuana use and the subsequent development of psychosis. While the symptoms that afflict PTSD patients (anxiety, depression, panic) may be temporarily relieved while the subjects are “high”, these very same symptoms are exacerbated in the long run.13  Even in the context of polydrug use, it is the degree of marijuana use that correlates most significantly with anxiety and depression.14
Myth #8. Marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and will reduce alcohol consumption, so we’ll end up with safer roadways.
In terms of mental health, marijuana is more dangerous on all counts (depression, anxiety, panic, psychosis, mania). As far as our roadways go, marijuana all by itself impairs driving. Whether it is better or the same as alcohol in that regard is still a matter of debate. What is known is that users all too frequently do both, and this combination is particularly hazardous. The interaction between the two drugs is synergistic,15 not additive.  So you end up with someone who is wildly impaired.
Myth #9. Laws don’t make a difference to rates of marijuana use
Some of the best data available on youth use in regards to laws comes from Europe, where they have a wide range of marijuana laws between the countries. The European organization ESPAD has studied youth use (15 to 16 year olds) across different countries every four years. The two most recent ESPAD reports (2007 and 2011) show that countries with legalization or defacto legalization (The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain) have on average a 3-fold higher rate of youth use than countries in which it has remained illegal. In our country, differences in decriminalization laws have existed between states for several years. If you break out the states with lenient decriminalization laws that also submit data to the CDC to track youth use (CO, AK, MA, ME), their rate of youth use (9-12th grade) is significantly higher (~25% higher) than states that have strict decriminalization codes and report to the CDC. Lenient codes include a low civil fine with no increase in penalties for repeat offenders, no requirement for drug education, no requirement for drug treatment, and no community service. Outright legalization and dedicated recreational pot shops in this country has not been around long enough for the effect on youth use to be determined.
Myth #10. The Drug War on marijuana is too expensive.
It is hard to put a price on the damage done to someone’s life if they develop a chronic psychosis like schizophrenia or psychotic bipolar disorder. But if economics must be considered, the cost of just schizophrenia alone to our country is approximately $64 billion per year, accounting for treatment, housing and lost productivity.16 If all adults were exchange their glass of wine or two over the weekend for a joint or two, our rate of schizophrenia would be expected to double. That $64 billion per year would pay for the drug war on marijuana and much more.
Brief Bio for the author:   Dr. Christine L. Miller obtained her B.S. degree in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. For over twenty years she has researched the molecular neuroscience of schizophrenia, ten of those years at Johns Hopkins University.  She is semi-retired, conducting occasional biomedical consulting on medical cases and an active volunteer for SAM-Maryland (Smart Approaches to Marijuana).NotPot
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Oregon Measure 91: No Need to Add Commercial Pot Industry

“There’s little in the way Oregon handles medical marijuana that inspires confidence it could do well as a regulator of marijuana for recreational use.”  Clatsop County District Attorney argued this point in the debate of October 20, 2014 at Portland State University.  

Marijuana has been decriminalized in Oregon since 1973.   Oregon’s Measure 91 proposes to add recreational sales of marijuana , which would be in addition to the state’s large medical marijuana program.   Oregonians vote by mail and ballots are due on election day, November 4.   (See PopPot’s 1st post about Oregon, 2nd post and most recent post on Oregon.)

Oregonians voted in medical marijuana back in 1998, but the program gained about 8,900 new registrants this year.  There are at least 193 marijuana dispensaries in Oregon, and it’s quite easy to get a medical marijuana card. Marijuana is low priority for law enforcement, particularly in Portland.   There were  around 2,000 marijuana arrests last year, not more than 12,000 as stated by the Yes on 91 campaign.  It’s hardly a number that takes up too much police enforcement.

Oregonians, be careful.  Under Measure 91, new marijuana stores would be able to open in any neighborhood, unless a community gets 10% of residents to sign a petition denying it.  Please join the Vote No on 91 – Oregon campaign, and check out their news on the Vote No on 91 – Oregon Facebook page.

In Colorado, lots of communities have trouble keeping out the marijuana shops, grows and processors; politicians often listen to businesses before the residents.  As a Coloradan explained, “commercialization’s goal is to privatize the profits and socialize the costs.”     It would not lead to fewer arrests, because as DA Josh Marquis said in a debate, the 71 people in Oregon jails for marijuana-related offenses would still be in jail under Measure 91.OregonNoon91

Oregon Voters Will Decide

1) Do they want the marijuana tourism that Colorado has experienced?  Many people follow the “green rush” to get into the hot new businesses.  Those who do not find jobs end up adding to number of people seeking places at the homeless shelters, and “dumpster diving” for weed.   How strange it would be if a state that does not commercialize its beaches would commercialize sales of a drug to attract businesses to the state.

2)  Fires and explosions from butane hash oil (BHO) production sent 17 people to a Portland burn unit in a 16-month span, according the Oregonian report in May.  The BHO-explosions   caused numerous injuries, extensive property damage and at least one death in Oregon. These blasts happen when amateurs use flammables to extract hash oil from marijuana; the process is becoming more and more popular.   By May of this year, the explosions increased in Colorado by 3x what they were the previous year, up to 31.

Downloadable Fact Sheet

Get the Parents Opposed to Pot Hash Oil Facts! Download our new flyer, which describes the hash oil explosions in states which have permissive marijuana laws: POPPOT-Hash Oil Statistics.

Will the new taxes adequately cover fire protection services for these explosions? Cost of treating the burns can run over $1 million. Oregon’s only burn center could be overwhelmed, not to mention property damage.  Do the regulations adequately ban non-professionals from making BHO and other marijuana derivatives?  When the Denver mayor called a meeting in September to fine amateurs making BHO in homes, apartments and motels, there was too much objection.  Although Measure 91 says that  making marijuana derivatives at home is not allowed, this practice is extremely popular and legalization is likely to make it even more common.   The Oregonian did a series of articles on BHO production in May.

3)  Is Oregon ready to handle marijuana the fact that marijuana edibles often imitate popular children’s foods and candies?   Beginning last year in Colorado, and this year in Washington, a much larger number of children have been hospitalized.   The problems with edibles and explosions are summarized in the HIDTA report which outlines a report from Colorado released in August.

4) The taxes received are far less than expected in Colorado.  Oregon will have a lower tax rate than Colorado, around 15% rather than 40%.  A problem will emerge if users sign up for the lower cost of medical marijuana, rather than the full tax of recreation marijuana.  Black markets are still strong in Washington and Colorado.  It’s not likely to be different in Oregon.

5) A person can grow up to four plants in the home, and can possess up to 1 ounce of usable marijuana in a public place, and a person can deliver up to 1 ounce of marijuana to someone else, as long as they are over 21.   (This amount for recreational users is much more expansive than in Washington and Colorado.)  Public use and public marijuana grows will not be allowed, but in Colorado and Washington, it still happens.  Seattle has decided to stop all citations for public pot smoking.

6)  Will communities struggle to keep out marijuana businesses? One Portland neighborhood is already having a problem keeping out medical marijuana business.  Places in Colorado and Washington have been forced to go to Court, or put referendums on the ballot.

Although a judge in Fife, Washington, has agreed with residents not to allow a commercial marijuana shop, the Washington ACLU is appealing the decision, making the business interests ahead of community decisions.

7) Three children have died in Colorado, from parents who neglected them when they smoked marijuana.  A four-year old boy died while the mother smoked marijuana, in a last week in Keizer, Oregon.    It’s not clear how the fire started, but the mother was very stoned at the time.   How will Oregonians protect the children under increased marijuana usage?

DwightHolton8) Medical marijuana in Oregon is regulated by the Health Board and recreational marijuana would be regulated by the Oregon Liquor Commission.  Any criticism DA Marquis leveled at the Health Board or the Liquor Control Commission relates to the ability of regulatory authorities in keeping harmful substances away from those who should not be using.  Parents, communities, friends, etc. must have the same goal.  An industry’s input should be minimal.  As in the state of Washington, those who want to use marijuana for recreational will be tempted to get a medical marijuana card, finding it cheaper.

Measure 91 Does Not Change

The current bans on selling or giving marijuana to anyone under the age of 21 would stay in place, even if legalization is approved by voters.  Laws regarding driving under the influence will remain the same, also, although some opponents don’t think the Measure 91 goes far enough to discourage driving high on pot.

Governor John Kitzenhaber and his opponent, Dennis Richardson, advise voting against Measure 91.  Measure 91 is funded mainly by out-of-state donors, the Marijuana Policy Project and Drug Policy Action Committee.  The campaign received another $580,000 from Drug Policy Action, in addition to the $800,000 from Drug Policy Action Committee given to Yes on 91 earlier this month.   The Yes on 91 campaign currently has over $4 million, at least  24x the amount No on 91 – Oregon has received.  Two years ago, when Measure 80 lost by 8%, the marijuana lobbyists did not fund the Oregon campaign.  They opted to finance the Washington and Colorado legalization efforts, which passed.

The suggestion that legalizing a dangerous drug to fund drug prevention and education is a bit backwards, kind of like creating a problem to solve a problem.   We  don’t believe there will be any money left to to pay for drug education, after paying for all the other services needed with regulation.